Tokyo Film Fest Navigates Current Affairs Obstacles



Ichiyama Shozo assumed control of the program of the Tokyo International Film Festival after a long programming career that included Tokyo and the slightly more indie Tokyo Filmex events. He is also a regular producing partner of Chinese art-house darling Jai Zhangke. These influences have shaped his approach to this year’s Tokyo IFF lineup, he told Variety.

The 2023 autumn festivals all seem to have strong line-ups. And Tokyo is no exception. What is your understanding of the reasons for that?

This year we received many more entries than previous years. I don’t know the reason, but I feel the film production situation worldwide has come back to the level before the pandemic.

What were your guidelines and criteria for selection this time around?

I feel many talented filmmakers are struggling with various social problems surrounding their countries. Most of the competition films are dealing with such subjects.

Which films in Tokyo are you most passionate about? What did you choose to omit?

I tried to select those films which challenge in some way. One example is Gu Xiaogang’s “Dwelling by the East Lake.” After the success of his first film, “Dwelling in the Fuchun Mountain,” he changed his directing style as well as the subject. I think it’s brave to do this, and Gu succeeded.

The 2023 Tokyo lineup includes many Chinese films, including world premieres. How do you assess the current state of the Chinese film industry? Its connections with the rest of the world (which seemed curtailed during 2020-2022)?

Last year, I learned that so many film productions had been stopped or postponed because of the censorship situation in China. But this year, many strong Chinese films came out, and as a result I selected three Chinese films for competition. Last year we had none. My understanding is that there has been some change in censorship in China.

I’m also impressed that many talented young filmmakers emerged this year. One of them is Gao Peng with “Long Shot,” which is a surprising feature film debut.

Do you see the same strengths in the rest of Asia? And Japan?

Compared with China, the other Asian territories are relatively weak this year. But we still found strong films from Philippines and Iran.

As for Japanese films, we found very interesting films by young filmmakers. One example is “A Foggy Paradise,” a surprising debut film by Kotsuji Yohei. He is a unique talent who may be compared with Tsai Ming-liang or Apichatpong Weerasethakul.

Given the Japanese government’s wholehearted support for Ukraine, what were the TIFF programming team’s arguments for and against the inclusion of a Russian film?

Last year, we had an internal meeting and reached the conclusion that we shouldn’t exclude any films because of their nationality. I think Alexei German Jr.’s “Air” is a very beautiful film which shows the sadness and emptiness of the war.

Have practical and current affairs had an impact?

We managed to keep the same budget for the festival as last year. The Israel-Palestine war: It’s sad that such battle happened. I hope this chain of violence can be ended as soon as possible.

Have the Hollywood strikes affected your programming? Talent participation? Promotions?

Since we didn’t intend to invite Hollywood stars, there is not a direct influence from Hollywood strikes. But we cannot show several Hollywood films, which we expected, because of the change of release dates in U.S. [which of course is an indirect effect of the actors and writers strikes].

How is the move from Roppongi to Ginza working out from the POV of a programmer?

I think the new location, surrounded by many restaurants and bars, is much more attractive than isolated Roppongi Hills. Good food and drinks are necessary for film festivals.


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